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Thursday, December 26, 2013

Tom Swift and His Electric Locomotive Now Online

The twenty-fifth installment of the Tom Swift saga, Tom Swift and His Electric Locomotive, is now posted in the Tom Swift and His Pocket Library collection. As usual, HTML, PDF, PDA eReader, and plain ASCII text editions suitable for reading off- or online are available.

In the 1920s, most railroads in the United States used coal-fired steam locomotives. While these engines got the job done, they were very inefficient and the logistics of hauling coal and water to depots to support them were complicated and costly, especially in the American west where distances are long and water is often scarce.

In this novel, the president of a regional railroad “out west” approaches Tom Swift and his father with an intriguing proposition. The railroad, long-established and with an effective monopoly in its territory, will soon face competition from a well-funded and ambitious competitor, already laying rails along routes potentially more profitable than those of the existing line. The only way to compete, the president argues, is to reduce operating costs and increase speed on his railroad, and the way to accomplish that is to electrify the line (he has already secured access to cheap hydroelectric power). He offers the Swift Construction Company a contract which will fund development of an electric locomotive capable of hauling freight and passengers at 120 miles per hour on straight and level tracks, and able to mount steep grades faster than any existing locomotive. If the Swifts deliver a prototype which meets the specifications, a large bonus will be paid, with orders for serially produced locomotives to follow.

The unscrupulous chief of the upstart railroad has no intention of allowing this threat to materialise, and deploys shady minions to spy upon, and then sabotage, the Swifts' project, heedless of risk to life and limb. Tom and the crew (in addition to his father, Ned Newton, Eradicate Sampson, Koku the giant, and the excitable Mr. Wakefield Damon all play parts in the adventure) must defeat the malefactors while solving the formidable engineering challenges of building the locomotive.

This is an interesting Tom Swift yarn in that the technology, considered as far-out as any of Tom's other adventures at the time, has become commonplace today, where electric locomotives routinely haul passengers at 120 miles per hour and faster. (The sweet spot for freight remains slower: rail is used for transport of bulky and heavy items, while time-sensitive traffic of smaller goods goes by air.) Curiously, apart from some densely populated metropolitan corridors, the United States has little electrified track, continuing to rely upon diesel-electric locomotives for the bulk of rail traffic.

This is the final public domain Tom Swift novel posted in this long-term project which began in 2004. The remaining novels, having been published in 1923 and later, are subject to the absurd U.S. copyright law which grants copyright for work-for-hire publications for a term of 120 years after creation or 95 years after publication, whichever is shorter. The next Tom Swift novel in the series, Tom Swift and His Flying Boat, published in 1923, will not enter the public domain until 2018. (I have absolutely no interest in debating the details or propriety of copyright law; feedback on this topic will be neither read nor responded to.)

Now that all of the public domain novels have been posted, I will revise the already-posted books on a time-available basis, bringing their production standards up to those of the more recent postings and incorporating corrections to typographical errors spotted by readers.

Posted at December 26, 2013 18:08